October 1998 // Case Studies
Why Do Faculty Participate in Distance Education?
by Kristen S. Betts
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: Kristen S. Betts "Why Do Faculty Participate in Distance Education?" The Technology Source, October 1998. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Social, economic, demographic, and technological changes are challenging higher education administrators to reexamine the way education is delivered (Daniel, 1997; Gilbert, 1996; Willis, 1993). As a result, many American colleges and universities have begun to offer distance education courses and degrees as a way to improve access to educational opportunities for learners of all ages, at all levels, and in diverse environments (L. Parker & A. Parker, 1996). However, despite the recent expansion of these programs across the United States, research indicates that many faculty members resist participation in distance education (Olcott & Wright, 1995). Recognizing that faculty members are an essential part of any distance education program, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, conducted an institutional study in Spring 1998 to identify factors that influence faculty members to participate in distance education.

The population for this study included faculty members and deans contracted for the 1998 Spring semester at GWU. The selected sample of 1,001 included 993 full-time regular active status faculty and full-time visiting faculty as well as the deans from the eight academic schools within GWU. A total of 532 faculty members and seven deans participated in the study, representing a 53.8% return rate. Of these, 86 (16%) taught distance education courses at the master's and doctoral level on campus in Washington, DC.

This study found that such intrinsic factors as intellectual challenge, personal motivation to use technology, ability to reach new audiences that cannot attend classes on campus, and opportunity to develop new ideas positively influenced faculty participation in distance education. Factors such as lack of release time, lack of technical support from the institution, concern about faculty workload, and lack of grants for materials/expenses negatively influenced faculty participation. However, extrinsic factors, such as credit toward promotion and tenure, recognition and awards, merit pay, and royalties on copyrighted materials did not significantly influence faculty participation.

Each of the eight schools within GWU contained faculty participating in distance education; however, not all schools were involved at the same level. Schools overseen by deans with distance education teaching experience and/or who were positive toward distance education had a larger percentage of faculty participating in distance education. Schools that had deans with no distance education experience and/or who indicated they did not support distance education were found to have a smaller percentage of faculty participating in distance education.

Faculty, both participants in distance education and non-participants, were asked to identify factors that would motivate or inhibit them from participating in distance education, and deans were asked to identify what they perceived as factors that would motivate or inhibit faculty from participating in distance education. We did not find a significant difference between what faculty members and deans identified as motivating factors, such as technical support provided by the institution, intellectual challenge, and increase in salary. However, there were significant differences between what faculty members identified as inhibiting factors and what the deans perceived as inhibiting factors. Such inhibiting factors as lack of release time, lack of technical support provided by the institution, and concern about faculty workload had a greater negative effect on faculty participation than the deans perceived.

Overall, 83.4% of the faculty who taught distance education courses and 100% of the deans stated they felt positive or neutral toward distance education in postsecondary education. Furthermore, several of the participants, who indicated they felt negative toward distance education, stated that although they did not support distance education in their discipline, they would support distance education in disciplines that lent themselves to distance education.

Sixty-four percent of the faculty who did not teach distance education courses said that they were interested in teaching distance education courses in the future. However, many were not sure where to go to obtain information about distance education at GWU or how to become involved in distance education. Slightly over 80% said that they would attend seminars and workshops that focused on distance education. Additionally, half of those who had not used distance education said that they would attend faculty development programs that focused on technology training.

Ninety-five percent of the faculty, including both distance education participants and non-participants and four deans, said they were not sure if GWU had a policy on distance education. However, despite the uncertainty regarding its existence, 292 faculty recommended such a policy.


Faculty and deans at GWU are interested in distance education, and deans who support distance education and/or who have experience with distance education at GWU will continue to have an increased number of faculty participating in distance education.

Faculty members who have extensive experience in higher education and faculty members who are not involved in the tenure and promotion process are more likely to participate in distance education than faculty members with less experience in higher education and/or faculty members who are vying for tenure. Faculty are also more likely to participate in distance education if the administration eliminates inhibiting factors and stresses the intrinsic benefits involved in distance education, and if faculty participators' needs are satisfied. Regardless of whether faculty members feel positive toward distance education, they generally recognize the value of distance education in postsecondary education and would like to take part in seminars, workshops, and faculty development programs that focus on distance education.

In order to increase the level of participation in distance education, presidents, chancellors, and provosts need to provide deans and faculty with an overview of distance education and information on how to become involved in it. They need to address and eliminate those factors that deter faculty from participating in distance education and stress its intrinsic benefits. They should establish a distance education central office to serve as a clearinghouse for information and projects regarding distance education and to provide faculty members with faculty development programs focused on distance education.

The implementation of new technologies, as well as student recruitment, is important to all distance education programs. However, distance education programs cannot operate without faculty members, as they play a vital role in distance education. Although the literature on distance education has increased over the years, there has been limited research on faculty participation in distance education. The implementation and expansion of distance education is more than just planning for new technologies. The success of any distance education effort rests primarily on the commitment of the faculty (Gottschalk, 1997).


Betts, K. S. (in press). Factors influencing faculty participation in distance education in postsecondary education in the United States: An institutional study. (Doctoral dissertation, The George Washington University, 1998). Dissertation Abstracts International: UMI.

Daigle, S. L., & Jarmon, C. G. (1996). Building the campus infrastructure that really counts. Educom Review, 35-38.

Daniel, J. S. (1997). Why universities need technology strategies. Change, 29(4), 11-17.

Gilbert, S. W. (1995). Teaching, learning & technology. Change, 27(2), 47-52.

Gottschalk, T. (Ed.). (1996). Distance education at a glance [On-line]. The University of Idaho. Retrieved September 18, 1998 from the World Wide Web: http://www.uidaho.edu/evo/dist1.html#What.

Olcott, D. J., & Wright, S. J. (1995). An institutional support framework for increasing faculty participation in postsecondary education. The American Journal of Distance Education, 9(3), 5-17.

Parker, L., & Parker, A. (Eds.). (1996). The professional development guide for distance education, 5, 5.

Willis, B. (Ed.). (1994). Distance education: Strategies and tools. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

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